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Donated Exercise Equipment Helps Female Offenders Keep Fit

It was a pleasant surprise when a call came in to Warden Carole Dwyer’s office in late summer from a Curves franchise owner from South County wondering if she could donate exercise equipment to the women’s prison at the Rhode Island Department of Corrections. Her facility was going out of business and she wanted the machines to be put to good use. It was only about a month later when a call came from a Curves franchise owner in Cranston with a similar offer. Thanks to those two women, who prefer to remain anonymous, dozens of female offenders now have state of the art machinery available to keep their minds and bodies active during their incarceration.

Principal Public Health Promotion Specialist Patricia Threats leads the women in exercise classes on the equipment, half of which is in the Dorothea Dix Women’s Minimum Security Facility and the rest at the Gloria McDonald Women’s Awaiting Trial & Medium Security Facility. Pat, along with Tonya Dana, a Clerk in Medical Records who is working on her Masters degree, and Debbie Matthieu, RIDOC’s Dietician, have teamed up to address the unique needs of the state’s rapidly growing population of female offenders. Together they have provided informal programming on diet, exercise, and life skills with the goal of better preparing the women for their eventual release.

Becky Frusher, Director of Communications for Curves International, has this to say about the equipment being used by women in Rhode Island’s prisons, “Curves International is thrilled that our great owners donated their equipment to the women’s facilities of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections. Their generosity exemplifies the spirit of the Curves community. We hope that the program will be beneficial to the ladies of the Gloria McDonald and Dix facilities and wish them the best of success in their future endeavors.”

Frusher notes that Curves owners have launched a program with inmates in the Colorado Women’s Correctional Facility which is hoped to be a pilot for the nation. One hundred and thirty five women in the Brush and Denver women’s correctional facilities have participated, crediting the program with helping them to lose weight, get healthier, and prepare for a more successful reentry to their home communities.

During a recent workout session in the gym in the basement of Rhode Island’s Dorothea Dix Facility, one slightly sweaty inmate said of her workouts on the new equipment, “I feel better about myself, my skin breaks out less, I’m sleeping a lot better, and I’m taking a lot less medication.” She and others in her module have access to the equipment Monday through Friday from 5 – 6 p.m. and she never misses a session. “If I don’t work out,” she says, “it’s like going a day without praying – my day is all off kilter.”

The half dozen or so women in the basement gym, many of whom struggle with addiction, talk about the weight gain they experience in prison and the importance of keeping their minds and bodies active to fight depression while incarcerated. One young mother who utilizes the equipment faithfully says she’s seeing her stomach muscles tightening up for the first time since giving birth.

As one offender expresses frustration about the cost of joining a gym on the outside and says she won’t be able to keep up with her workouts once she goes home, Health Promotion Specialist Pat Threats encourages her by saying, “You can always get out and walk. Walking is one of the best forms of exercise. And there are things you can do right in your home.”

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